Contributed by: Rachana Arya
Since its emergence, the Zika virus has grown to be a health concern for many people. Several Indian states have been experiencing the outbreak of the Zika virus. With more and more cases being reported each day, it is evident that our country is not a safe haven from this deadly disease. As with many diseases, there is no dearth of false and misleading information, especially on the internet, that continues to circulate.
But we need to keep the air clear about the virus and how it affects people. Instead of believing the myths, let’s separate the facts from the fiction to give you some solid information that you need to know about Zika.
First things first, let’s learn more about the mosquito-borne virus that causes birth defects such as microcephaly.
What is the Zika virus?
Zika is a viral disease that is primarily spread by Aedes mosquitoes such as A. albopictus and A. aegypti. It can also be passed by sexual contact and from a pregnant mother to the fetus. The virus is mostly found in tropical and other mosquito-infested areas.
Myth #1: Zika is a new virus
Not exactly! Zika was initially discovered in 1947 and has been known to the medical community since then, though it was assumed to only be mosquito-borne until relatively recently. The Zika virus was named after the Zika Forest in Uganda. The first human cases of Zika were discovered in 1952, and Zika outbreaks have been documented in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Only a few dozen Zika cases have been reported before 2007. The virus was propelled into the international spotlight in 2015 after a multi-country epidemic.
Myth #2: The virus can only be transmitted by the sting of infected mosquitoes
Although the virus is spread through the bites of infected mosquitos of the Aedes aegypti species, there are other transmission vectors that can easily spread the virus. The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are most common in tropical and subtropical areas. They sting more frequently at specific times of the day, such as:
- Early morning
- Late afternoon
- Early evening
Besides the infected mosquitoes, the Zika virus can be transferred to people in a variety of ways, including:
- By a mother to her unborn child
- Via blood transfusions
- During sexual activity
Therefore, although the main vector is the infected mosquitoes, other sources of transmission are also possible.
Myth #3: Each person who contracts Zika develops symptoms
Only one in every four persons infected with Zika will develop symptoms, therefore the vast majority of those who get the virus will remain asymptomatic. Generally, people infected with the Zika virus have mild symptoms. The following are the most prevalent Zika symptoms:
- Muscle pain
- Conjunctivitis (eye flu)
Myth #4: Zika can be transmitted by coughing or sneezing
Zika virus primarily is transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This is the same mosquito that causes dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. It usually bites during day time. Zika can potentially be transmitted to sexual partners via an infected man’s sperm. Zika is not transferred by coughing or sneezing, as other viruses (such as the common cold) do. Casual contact and being close to the person with Zika will not result in infection.
Myth #5: It is NOT a virus of considerable concern
This is completely untrue. Although it’s true that in normal cases, the disease isn’t life-threatening. However, in pregnant women, Zika virus infection can lead to severe abnormalities in unborn children and that’s unusual for a mosquito-borne virus. In extreme and rarer cases, infection by the Zika virus may lead to some frightening complications. Some of the birth defects that are potentially linked to Zika virus infection are:
- Brain abnormalities and/or microcephaly
- Eye abnormalities
- Fetal death
- Guillain-Barre syndrome — a rare and fatal disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system
Myth #6: The symptoms of the Zika virus are similar to the flu
There are some similarities between Zika and the seasonal flu, such as fever and muscle and joint pain. However, that’s where the two similarities come to an end. There are some significant variances between the two, as explained by the World Health Organization (WHO),
“Seasonal flu can cause severe illness or death. The disease is characterized by a sudden onset of high fever, cough (usually dry, can be severe), headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise (feeling unwell), sore throat and runny nose.”
“Zika virus disease usually causes mild illness, and most people will not develop any symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika include low fever or rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, appearing a few days after a person has been infected by an infected mosquito or after sexual intercourse with an infected person. However, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome which can be a fatal condition.”
Myth #7: All babies born to women infected by Zika will have a birth defect
Not entirely true! Microcephaly is a disorder in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected, mainly due to brain underdevelopment, and causes delays in speech and cognitive activities. Zika has been closely related to an increase in microcephaly cases in newborns. While pregnant women with Zika or in a Zika-infected area are unquestionably in danger, the chances of having a deformed delivery are 1 in 100.
Myth #8: There is no protection against this deadly virus
Not at all. While Zika is a very dangerous condition, yet you can significantly reduce your risk of catching Zika by taking the below precautions:
- Protecting yourself from mosquitoes by using repellents (that contain DEET – at least 20 percent recommended) on exposed skin, especially during dawn and dusk, when the Aedes mosquitoes are most active
- Clearing out mosquitoes’ breeding grounds
- Using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted Zika-infection.
- Not leaving any open water bottles outside
- Wearing long sleeves and pants
- Staying in a place that has air conditioning to avoid opening windows
- Remaining indoors as much as possible
- Getting rid of all stagnant water and empty containers that can collect water
- Avoiding travel to a Zika-infected area unless absolutely necessary
Myth #9: There’s a treatment for the Zika virus
Given the fact that there is currently no vaccine or treatment available for the Zika virus, it is better to be safe rather than take the risk of transmission and the potential of birth defects. If a person develops symptoms after visiting a high-risk area or having unprotected intercourse with a partner, Zika testing is usually suggested.
A blood test or urine test can be used to detect Zika virus infection. There are tests that detect the virus’s presence in the body, as well as serological tests that search for antibodies your body produces to combat the illness (the same test may detect viruses like chikungunya and dengue).
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